Make love not war. Sounds a little cloying, but it might be the solution for some of the estimated hundreds of AWOL American soldiers roaming Canadian streets.
As war resisters Jeremy Hinzman and Brandon Hughey await the ruling on their appeal of an earlier failed refugee bid, activists are watching the fate of newly hitched GI Darrell Anderson.
The Kentucky-born former combatant in Iraq, now on the lam in T.O., says he adores Canada. "I love the tolerance, I love the attitude," he says. In fact, Anderson loves Canadians so much, on February 13 he married one - Torontonian Gail Greer.
The question is, will Canadian wedlock save Anderson from deportation to a U.S. jail? Anderson says his own refugee application was dismissed when he accidentally found himself without legal counsel at his hearing in January.
"I think Anderson could have been deported within months," says his lawyer, Andrew Brouwer. But before you could say "Canuck," he and Greer were married, and now he's applying for spousal sponsorship to become a landed immigrant.
"The timing does coincide with Darrell risking deportation," says Greer. "But we were planning to get married anyway. That just gave us a date."
Canada's spousal sponsorship system, which was revised last year, doesn't necessarily require applicants to return to their home country to apply. But newlyweds may have to demonstrate they are living as a married couple, sharing leases and bank accounts - and apparently even love.
"If he's applying to be a landed immigrant,' says Doug Kellam, Ontario spokesperson for Citizenship and Immigration Canada, "we do need to know this is a bona fide marriage.'
Depending on how the government reacts to Anderson's claim, the marriage might save him from an estimated one to five years in jail in the U.S. No one is sure how long the actual sentence might be, since no U.S. soldier AWOL from the current conflict has returned from Canada to face the music.
Pentagon spokesperson Major Elizabeth Robbins says, "We encourage [AWOL soldiers] to return to military control or to a U.S. embassy to address their remaining obligations."
Anderson says he has no plans to return. For once, he might just be in the right place at the right time. He wasn't so lucky in Iraq. A soldier with the First Tank Division, he was rolling down the road on a howitzer battle tank in the middle of Baghdad when he looked down at the ground.
"The earth suddenly blew up in my face," he says. "The only thing I remember is the sound of chunks of metal and dirt flying into me."
Anderson spent a few hours in the infirmary there having bits of road and roadside bomb extracted from his body and was quickly patched up. Within hours, he was back on another suicide patrol. Nonchalant about his injuries, he posed for cameras, showing off the lemon-shaped patch of meat missing from his waist.
Anderson received a Purple Heart after being injured in action, but something inside had turned. Home on Christmas leave a few months later, he made a beeline for Canada.
When he crossed the Rainbow Bridge at Niagara Falls in January 2005 in a car piloted by supportive friends, he said he felt a 10-ton weight lift from his shoulders. "I'm free," he told the waterfalls.
"We weren't fighting terrorists in Iraq," he says. "We were just running around shooting poor people who had no food or running water. It was poor people shooting other poor people. That's war."
Anderson joined up with T.O.'s War Resisters Support Group and has been on speaking tours across the country. Now, even though he's a deserter, effectively a fugitive from the U.S. government, he says his life is starting to make sense.
Unwittingly, I had a hand in Anderson meeting his future wife. He came face to face with Greer when she was working as a research intern on a documentary I directed. We interviewed Anderson, his military crew cut just starting to grow out, shortly after he arrived in Toronto.
Greer was enlisted to be Anderson's eye line, as he was being lit. Perhaps the two stared deeply into each other's eyes. A few months later they were living together, and on February 13 they were married by a lesbian United Church minister. "It was very Canadian," says Anderson of the wedding.
Now the couple have to convince the feds that their bond is authentic - a quest likely to have interesting implications for other single AWOL soldiers in Canada.
"I'm not sure how they test you for love," says Greer, who's confident they will easily pass. "Right now I can't imagine life without him."
Says Anderson, "I can't imagine life without her."
Although the application doesn't demand photographs, lawyers advise applicants to supply them, since they can be strangely convincing one way or the other. "Unfortunately, we don't have very many," said Greer. Easily rectified. Apparently, even a government bureaucrat can sometimes tell from a picture if two people really are married. Canada, you be the judge.
Albert Nerenberg’s documentary Escape To Canada opens at the Bloor Cinema Friday (March 10). See review in Movies, and Indie & Rep Film listings.